Mel Giedroyc on debut novel The Best Things and bankruptcy fears

The comedian Mel Giedroyc hopes to return to stand-up with her pal Sue Perkins and reveals how a financial crisis made her re-evaluate her priorities. Hannah Stephenson reports.

The comedian, presenter and writer Mel Giedroyc, who has released a debut novel. Picture: Laurie Fletcher/PA.
The comedian, presenter and writer Mel Giedroyc, who has released a debut novel. Picture: Laurie Fletcher/PA.

Mel Giedroyc makes no secret of the fact she’d love to return to stand-up with her good friend Sue Perkins, original Great British Bake Off presenters and anchor duo of former daytime show, Light Lunch.

“I really miss stand-up,” says the bright, witty 52-year-old writer, actor and presenter. “The last conversation that Sue and I had a few days ago, we ended up saying, ‘When the Edinburgh Festival’s back on again, shall we do it?’

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“We’d love to do some live stuff together and that’s going to happen. Now that my girls [Giedroyc has two daughters] are pretty much ready to fly the coop, life is different.”

What subjects would they tackle now? “We’d probably be talking about menopause and old age by the time we get it together,” she predicts.

“It’ll be the usual shambolic collective of madness. We are not very good with deadlines.”

Working together is like slipping into comfortable shoes though, she agrees. “It’s mad. We’ve known each other since we were 19 and we are now in our 50s. That’s something that’s pretty bloomin’ special. And when we work together, we revert to being 19 again, which is annoying for anyone around us because we’ve so much shared history and comedy.”

But they have both done a lot of telly individually too, which was always important to them. “You have to plough your own furrow and Sue is brilliant at things that I’m not brilliant at, and hopefully I can do stuff that she maybe doesn’t want to do, or doesn’t feel so akin with. But it’s lovely to come back together. It feels like a treat.”

Under normal circumstances they would be constantly in and out of each other’s houses, although they have walked their dogs together during lockdown.

Giedroyc has also written her debut novel, The Best Things.

It’s a witty and thought-provoking tale about a middle class 'yummy mummy' in Surrey who finds her own identity and newfound strength in the wake of the collapse of her husband’s business, when they lose their home and their savings in one fell swoop.

Giedroyc, who lives in west London with her husband, TV director Ben Morris, and daughters, can certainly relate to the cushion of a comfortable life being swept from under her feet – the family almost went bankrupt when the girls, Vita and Florence, now 17 and 18 respectively, were little.

She explains they’d bought a large house in west London, spent far too much money on it and had a huge mortgage. “I had a nice little gig with Kingsmill bread. Sue and I were making two ads for them a year, which was keeping things ticking along really nicely financially.

“I had the girls and I thought, ‘This is great! I can be a stay-at-home mum and do the odd advert and keep the coffers going and life is good’.

“Then a letter came through the door saying, ‘We don’t need you any more for the advert’ – and that was it. We were wiped out financially. We had to sell the house, which was scary.

“It was just at the time when the housing market was going to pot, around the crash in 2007. There were many sleepless nights and chats around, ‘Oh my God, what have we done? We can’t afford to be here, we’re going to be declared bankrupt.’”

They sold their house just in time, she recalls, and rented a small two-bedroom flat for nearly two years. “We got a good deal from a friend of a friend and we would meet him in a layby off the A1 with cash for our rent,” she recalls.

“I’m sure it’s a story many of us have been through. You push the boat out a bit too much and you think it’s fine, we all live on credit, don’t we?”

But then it bites you, she says.

Despite the financial worries, fundamentally it didn’t change their life, she says now.

“I don’t think either of us have ever been massively materialistic or think it’s all about the car we drive or the flat screen telly we own. We’re not like that, although we had to put all our stuff in storage and cut our cloth and live in a tiny flat.

“It made me feel, ‘Do you know what? We’re fine because we’ve got each other.’ It made us feel really good because we didn’t have a massive mortgage around our necks. We just suddenly felt free. I think it made us feel like students again, although we did have two children.”

She believes their financial problems brought them together, certainly physically, she quips, given they were living in a tiny 1970s two-bedroom flat.

“When I was writing the book, it’s fascinating to think how much store we set in our crazy 21st century lives by, ‘How big is your house? How much money do you have in the bank? What can you show off to your peers?’”

Enjoying TV success before the finances went awry didn’t make the fall harder, she reflects. “It took Sue and I seven years to get the Light Lunch gig. People go, ‘Oh, you went to Cambridge, got out of university and just walked into TV.’ Absolutely not!”

They had been grafting in bad jobs, she says, “not knowing where our next rent was going to come from.

“At the end of the day, you know you’re going to be okay because you’ve got your family. This is a big theme running through my book.”

The novel is set in Leatherhead, a setting familiar to Giedroyc, who was brought up on the outskirts of the Surrey suburb by her Lithuanian father, an aircraft designer, and her mother, a nurse. “Suburbia runs deep within my DNA and my plan is to try to write a Leatherhead trilogy, this being my first story,” she reveals.

“The idea just makes me laugh.”

Despite the financial chaos and flawed characters in her story, it ends hopefully. “They learn through these awful experiences that there is more to life than the trappings of wealth. Family is the most important thing. Life doesn’t turn out the way you expect it, but if you keep yourself on the right track and the people that matter close to you, you’re going to be all right.”

And the work keeps coming. She’s recently presented a new celebrity confessional series, Unforgivable, and is filming a new series of Sky comedy drama Hitmen with Perkins.

She hasn’t watched Bake Off, their most high profile presenting job, since it moved to Channel 4, she admits. “I barely saw it when it was on BBC,” she says. “I’ve just started to dip my toes in a couple of our series, but I find it very hard to watch anything that I’m involved in. It’s probably vanity, thinking, ‘I could have done that better’, which is stupid. But one should watch one’s own stuff because then you learn. And I’ll probably watch the Channel 4 Bake Off in about seven years’ time.”

She has no regrets about leaving the show when she did. “It was an amazing seven-year chapter of our lives and it was so bizarre and surreal how it took off like that. It opened loads of doors and was amazing to be part of such a loved show. But I think it’s always good to leave the party when the music’s still playing.”

The Best Things by Mel Giedroyc is published by Headline Review, priced £12.99, and is available now.